Columbia River Spring Chinook Season is Set;
by Mark Yuasa
State, federal and tribal fishery managers set the Columbia River spring chinook fishing seasons.
The forecast calls for 188,800 upriver-bound Columbia River adult spring chinook, compared to last year's forecast of 232,500 (actual return was 289,000).
“The spring chinook forecast would rank as the ninth-largest dating back to 1990, if it comes in as expected,” said Joe Hymer, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist.
The largest spring adult chinook return on record was 541,000 (364,600 was the forecast) in 2001, and the worst was 12,792 (12,000) in 1995.
Approved is a 38-day spring chinook catch-and-keep season on the Lower Columbia from March 1 to April 9 -- except closed March 29 and April 5 -- from Buoy 10 up to Beacon Rock, plus bank fishing only from Beacon Rock up to the Bonneville Dam deadline marker. Daily limit is two salmon; only one may be a hatchery-marked chinook.
Currently, the Lower Columbia downstream from the I-5 Bridge is open for hatchery chinook and steelhead, and I-5 up to Highway 395 Bridge is open for hatchery steelhead only.
The catch expectation is about 9,100 adult spring chinook (7,130 upriver spring chinook mortality) for the Lower Columbia fishery, and 900 adult fish for the season above Bonneville.
The Columbia River from the Tower Island power lines (about six miles below The Dalles Dam) to the Oregon-Washington border, plus the bank area between Bonneville and the Tower Island power lines is open March 16 to May 6.
The spring chinook fishery creates a fishing frenzy beginning as early as January and February.
Many variables make it difficult to pinpoint when fish will actually arrive in large numbers. Ocean survival is always a big question mark.
Normally in the early part of the season, the weather, high-water levels from upstream runoff and snow melt, and cold water temperatures dictate the migration pattern.
While the spring chinook catch usually starts off spotty in late February and March, the sport allocation below Bonneville is often taken by early April even though the peak occurs in late April or early May.
The spring chinook's prized red-fleshed meat and high Omega 3 oil content rival that of the Copper River kings from Alaska.
Last year, 151,173 angler trips were taken with 19,586 spring chinook kept and 5,052 released for one fish for every six angler trips. The catch-and-keep fishery was open 74 of the 107 days from March 1 to June 15.
Wild spring chinook and smelt are protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act, and fishery managers set stringent catch limits on sport, tribal and nontribal commercial catches.
In other news, the Cowlitz River will be open this Saturday from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. for bank-only smelt fishing. The daily limit will be 10 pounds per person.
Eastern Strait chinook catch reduced
There is a rising concern brewing over the winter chinook catch guideline in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca around Port Angeles.
State Fish and Wildlife officials and sport fishing advisory board members met Wednesday, and found the eastern Strait -- referred to by anglers as Marine Catch Area 6 -- is at 71 percent of the chinook catch guideline.
The heightened concern is the 1,221 chinook under the 22-inch minimum legal-size limit that showed up in catch data. The catch guideline is 1,831 chinook, both under and over the legal-size limit with a total encounter ceiling level of 2,586.
This is an unprecedented level of small 18-inch fish not seen in the last 25 years, a member of the sport-fishing advisory board said.
Since Puget Sound wild chinook are listed under the Endangered Species Act, fishery biologists have to take necessary measures to ensure catches don't exceed conservative guidelines.
In order to prevent further issues in Area 6, state fisheries decided to reduce the daily catch limit to one hatchery-marked chinook beginning Friday. The salmon fishery is open daily through April 10.
State Fish and Wildlife monitors catch rates in marine areas from Sekiu to Olympia through test fishing to get the ratio of hatchery to wild chinook, size of fish, along with aerial and on-the-water counts, and boat ramp creel checks.
The sub-legal chinook encounters have improved in other open waterways.
The San Juan Islands are at 58 percent with 3,199 sub-legal fish encountered (7,137 guideline and total ceiling of 12,248); the east side of Whidbey Island is at 23 percent with 541 (1,317 and 5,811); and northern Puget Sound is at 3 percent with 47 (140 and 4,729).
The alarm bell rang when the central Puget Sound hatchery chinook fishery started off strong when it opened Oct. 1. Hordes of sub-legal chinook in catches led to a brief 16-day season -- it was originally scheduled to be open through Jan. 31.
The central Sound issue caught state fisheries officials by surprise when 2,541 sub-legal fish were encountered. They exceeded the grand total by 163 percent with a 2,221 ceiling and an actual encounter of 3,625 chinook.
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